If I were a true lumberjack tree-felling lass, I’d be wearing a flannel jacket and could chop an entire tree by myself. I’d be able to split a block of wood with a single swing of my axe because I’d be strong and burley.
But here I am, clad in a fluorescent orange helmet rocking a pair of earmuffs and holding a chainsaw as the feeble muscles in my arms burn.
I’m out in the South Country with Gord Anderson, whom I’ve deemed a sort of wood-chopping wizard, and today he is going to show me how to chop a tree and collect firewood for the winter.
In recent days the temperature has dropped significantly and around town those with a wood-burning stove in their home have stacked their woodpiles in preparation. I, on the other hand, have turned on my furnace and am terrified to see what the cost of my next heating bill will be.
The sun is shining but the condensation of my breath crystallizes in the air.
With us is Donna Lee Clusiault, a good friend who arranged this wood-chopping venture. She has a wood-burning stove and will take most of the wood from today home.
Gord, who has a free use permit for firewood from the Ministry of Forests, explains the steps and then we walk towards a tall, 80-year-old dead Douglas Fur he has been scoping out for some time.
He saws the base of the tree while Donna Lee and I stand back, making an undercut and then wedging the tree.
Before long a silence envelops the forest; the tree hangs in the air, sways and then collides with the snow-covered ground in a loud crash.
“It takes some effort,” Gord says, wearing – true to lumberjack form – a flannel jacket and a well-worn pair of Carhartts. “People think they can grab a saw and just cut down a tree but it’s important to know what you’re doing.”
I hand saw notches into the tree trunk to help measure the length of our cuts as Gord begins taking off branches. Before long I’m rocking the orange helmet and Gord hands me the chainsaw.
There’s something about holding an obnoxiously loud piece of machinery that makes me feel like a man’s man. I imagine my face covered in dirt and a slight snarl escaping my mouth. Of course, I don’t look like this at all, but a girl can dream.
I start up the saw and dig into the trunk. It’s much easier than I imagined and in no time I’ve created three chunks of wood. It’s just like driving a hot knife into a stick of butter.
We create an assembly line of sorts and Gord starts chopping the blocks of wood with an axe. Donna Lee hops in the truck and I pass her fresh chunks of wood to stack. The smell of the natural wood, combined with the fresh morning air leaves me feeling refreshed.
“When you cut your own wood it warms you twice,” says Gord, laughing as I remove my jacket. Things are heating up.
Gord begins sawing again and I figure I’ll take a swing at chopping a couple of blocks. I grab the axe and swing down as hard as I can.
Thunk. The axe makes a barely-there wedge in the wood and comes to an abrupt stop. Donna Lee and I begin to laugh. She takes a swing and the same thing happens. We collectively decide that we’ll leave the chopping portion of the job to Gord.
In just over two hours we’ve fell, chopped and stacked an entire tree, providing enough firewood to warm a house for the better part of the winter.
“It’s the best part about being out here, after you shut the saw off and you get to see what you’ve accomplished,” says Gord.
We start a fire and Donna Lee pulls out her picnic basket filled with fresh biscuits, chili, creamy hot chocolate and apple crisp. Everything is delicious. We then make our way home to unload.
My little woodpile is stacked in the backyard and I look at it with the pride of a true lumberjack lass. I’m looking forward to having a campfire on Christmas Eve.